- Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember
- Directed by Peter Segal
I approach films based on old TV shows with suspicion, but the comic potential of Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart lowered my guard. But while Get Smart has its charms, it doesn’t fulfill that potential by a long shot.
Carell wisely doesn’t attempt to imitate Don Adams’ broad caricature, and plays Max as something resembling a real human being. This Smart is smart, an analyst (promoted to full agent early in the movie) who speaks many languages, remembers vast facts about the bad guys he tracks, and can turn all of that data into insightful deductions. He’s also physically fit and useful in a fight–even if his lack of experience occasionally shows.
But he isn’t particularly funny. Funny things happen to him–sometimes very funny things. In a clear tribute to Harold Lloyd, a rat crawls into Max’s tuxedo at a particularly dangerous moment, forcing him to jump around out of course when the slightest wrong movement could kill him. It’s funny, but it could have happened to anyone.
Speaking of characters who aren’t funny, Terence Stamp gives a completely straight and humorless performance as the evil mastermind Siegfried. I don’t completely reject the idea of serious villains in action comedies, but why get our hopes up by naming him after the funniest villain on the TV show. Stamp’s Siegfried would never say “Shmart, zere are good guys and zere are bad guys. I am one of ze bad guys.” (Carell gets to repeat some of Adams’ signature lines, such as “Sorry about that” and “Missed it by that much.”) At least Sigfried has a funny sidekick, played by Borat sidekick Ken Davitian.
Anne Hathaway does a fine job as Agent 99, although her exasperation with Max’s clumsy mistakes would have played better if he had been clumsier. Alan Arkin also does a nice turn as the Chief. In the cameo department, Bill Murray is a pleasure as the long-suffering Agent 13 (the guy always hiding in strange places), and James Caan plays the unnamed U.S. President–an idiot who does whatever his Vice President tells him to do. Where did they get that idea?
The whole thing climaxes with a funny yet thrilling plane vs. car chase. Too bad the movie as a whole only achieved this goal sporadically. Cutting the right half hour out of Get Smart would have made a very good film. Writing inherently funny characters would have made a great one.